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Globe trotting Lakeland College assistant professor Alicia Helion is making a world of difference overseas and in the classroom. Now in her fourth year as a member of Lakeland's psychology faculty, Helion has spent time overseas each of the last three summers creating dynamic learning experiences for her students. "My goal is to engage my students through research and service," Helion said. "There's nothing more gratifying than seeing students beaming when they've learned that a research project has been approved or their work has been selected for publication."
This past May, Lakeland students created HIV prevention and English instruction materials, which Helion used in seminars during her month-long stay in Uganda. Helion collected research from seminar participants, and her students are analyzing that data in the college's psychology lab this school year. Helion and several of her students will present the findings at the Midwest Psychological Association Conference in Chicago this May. She made previous visits with materials made by her students to Mozambique and Cambodia.
Closer to home, dozens of her students have worked on a cervical cancer study that Helion started in 2005. Helion's research, which is being funded by a grant from the Marti Spittel Zigelbauer Foundation, shows that some women who get abnormal pap results often do not return for additional testing. This abnormal result can be a warning sign for cervical cancer.
"We have up to 6,000 people that die each year of cervical cancer, and that shouldn't happen in this country," Helion said. "In the U.S., it is 100 percent curable if detected early."
To Helion, this is clearly an education issue. To improve communication, she and her students have worked with Planned Parenthood to collect stories from women who received follow-up testing. Those stories are now part of a brochure designed by Lakeland students stressing the need for follow-up testing. The brochure is available in several Planned Parenthood offices in Wisconsin. Students are researching the effectiveness of their brochure compared to an information-based brochure that doesn't include the personal stories.
"Students helped create surveys to look at the efficacy of the material, and then changed it based upon results," Helion said. "Some students were involved in discussions with Milwaukee's Planned Parenthood director, and the director said that student involvement motivated her to participate."
Helion has a host of students eager to assist in her work. One such student is Alysa Luckow, a senior from Manitowoc who has a double major in psychology and criminal justice. She has worked in Lakeland's psychology lab for two years and is currently analyzing the HIV data collected in Uganda and has worked on the cervical cancer project. This spring, Luckow will conduct her own research as part of an independent study with Helion on levels of prejudice and discrimination toward international students at Lakeland.
"Dr. Helion has a lot of passion for what she does," Luckow said. "When we discuss these projects, she does it in a way that we can understand. She's giving us opportunities and experiences that many undergraduates don't get. It's pretty exciting that a few of us get to help her create the presentation for the conference in Chicago."After earning a master's degree in psychology at Brown University, she earned a doctorate in psychology from UW-Milwaukee. Today, Helion has found her niche working with students at Lakeland.
"Sometimes our students need a lot of support, and I'm able to provide that. That is really fulfilling," Helion said. Helion hopes to continue her international work this summer. She is planning a trip to Kenya to conduct more HIV interventions and research.